Steinberg: U.S. sells more corn than anybody; guess who buys it?
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It’s time to play The Fact Game!
How do we play? First, throw out a fact:
Corn is a kind of grass.
Just like rice, wheat, oats, or other cereal grains. Don’t let the large seed head — the corn cob — fool you.
Is that true? Untrue? Well, I read it in a book, Midwest Maize: How Corn Shaped the U.S. Heartland by Cynthia Clampitt.
“Corn is big grass,” writes Clampitt, early in her charming, engrossing book. “It grows faster than other grasses. Its large leaves make it better at capturing sunlight than other grasses. . . . So it’s really impressive grass, but it’s still grass.”
It sounds right, is written by a noted food historian and printed in a book published by University of Illinois Press, confirmed by a second source (“. . . of the grass family” says the Enyclopaedia Britannica).
I’d say: Fact!
Again, again! Let’s have another “fact”:
The United States is the No. 1 producer of corn in the world.
Do we accept that as fact? It’s good to be No. 1. So yes, we do!
We’re No. 1! We’re No. 1!
Besides making us feel good, the United States Department of Agriculture says it’s true.
How about a related fact? If the U.S. is the world’s No. 1 producer of corn — by far — who is the biggest producer of corn in the U.S.? Why the Land of Lincoln, correct? Illinois, No. 1 corn producer in the country.
Num-ber One! Num-ber One!
Actually Iowa’s No. 1, with 2.5 billion bushels in 2015, again according to the USDA. But Illinois is No. 2, at 2 billion bushels.
And who is our biggest customer? Japan
Hooray Japan! 476 million bushels bought.
Close behind, Mexico.
Hooray for Mexico! 444 million bu—
Oh wait. Take that back. Not such a good fact, is it? We don’t like Mexico. Because they buy so much of our corn? No, no, that isn’t it. Because they send people here to live in serfdom and do our scut work. Nope, that isn’t it either.
Oh right. . . . We don’t like them because they sap our greatness. “They’re rapists,” said Donald J. Trump, almost the first words out of his mouth when he declared his candidacy. Criminals. Drug dealers. We elected Trump to get tough with Mexico. He’s going to send all those bad pot-scrubbing hombres back where they belong. He’s already started sending them back. The raids have begun. He’s also going to scrap NAFTA, the trade agreement that flooded Mexico with our cheap corn, destroying Mexico’s own corn production.
And how is Mexico reacting to this punch to the jaw? Like in the movies, right? It collapses on the ground, whimpering, defeated. ¡No mas!
Is that a fact? How to find out? Well, we could look to actual Mexicans, and see how they are reacting to our bold new president.
Mexican Senator Armando Rios Piter, for instance. He said on Sunday he will introduce a bill this week forcing Mexico to buy its corn anywhere but the U.S.
“I’m going to send a bill for the corn that we are buying in the Midwest and . . . change to Brazil or Argentina,” Rios Piter told CNN on Sunday.
Mexico bought $2.4 billion worth of American corn in 2015.
Maybe Mexico’s threat is just bluster. Why would they hurt themselves to score a political point? Just because we are?
Should a corn war happen, it’ll hurt Illinois. We’ve seen the damage from this kind of thing. In Chicago, particularly. Self-destructive trade protectionism wasn’t invented by Donald Trump. Chicago used to be a center for candy production. Tootsie Rolls. Wrigley gum. All based here. The Baby Ruth was invented in Chicago. Then politicians started trying to win votes by propping up the sugar industry. Quotas. Tariffs. Sugar costs twice as much in the U.S. as in the rest of the world. Most of Chicago’s candy companies shipped production to Mexico or China or both. Brach’s alone cost 1,000 jobs when it closed on the West Side.
A 2006 Commerce Department study found that for every sugar industry job saved, three confectionery jobs were lost.
Is that a fact? Chicago has the empty lots to prove it.Tweets by @neilsteinberg